Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen – 20th September 2014

Au Pairing in Paris

Lounging around in my bed feeling hungover and a bit sorry for myself I decided retail therapy was in order to cheer myself up so I dragged myself to Marche aux Puces; a huge flea market in North Paris, just outside the 18th Arrondissement. I took the metro to Porte de Clignancourt (end of line 4) and followed the signs to ‘Le Puces’. Soon I was deep in streets of stalls selling clothes, antiques, furniture, dodgy fake Nike trainers, African artefacts, phone cases, flags, food, books and everything in between. It’s not just your typical french market, it has every type of stall you can imagine and it’s so so so big.

Porte de Clignancourt is where the red marker is, the purple line is the metro line 4

Porte de Clignancourt is where the red marker is, the purple line is the metro line 4

After a few minutes of nothing really catching my eye I got heckled by a guy behind a stall with crazy dreads piled on his head and surrounded by Jamaican flags. ‘Hey baby, why you na stop at mih stall? Ya nah wanna talk to ya bruder?!’ – obviously I had to go and chat to this crazy Rasta. He was clearly mad but we chatted for almost half an hour; he was raised in Jamaica, had lived in Birmingham, London, a few African countries and now Paris so we actually had a lot in common. He tried to set me up with a few of his sons (he has more than 11 kids apparently. I don’t think he knows the exact number) and told me about his 3 wives. I carried on through the market, spoke to a few other stallholders and heard some amazing stories; it was as if all the interesting people in Paris had gathered to the market. Happy days.

I picked up a few bits, you can totally barter and negotiate prices so I managed to get some bargains (by Parisian terms..)

– Jamaican flag for my wall, €4

– Sunglasses, €4

– Knife pendant choker/necklace, €3 for 2 mini knives and a little elephant charm

– 4 scrunchies, €2
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I’m pretty happy with what I got, I could’ve bought way more if I had the money to spare. There were a few great vintage clothes stalls but I’ve recently been buying more clothes than I need (maybe fashion week this week will change my mind though!).

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You have to be street smart at all times in Paris but especially at this market. You can see pickpockets walking around eyeing up your bag and there are loads of men by the exit trying to flog you mobile phones and dodgy gadgets. I chose to take a clutch as there’s may less risk of someone taking stuff if it’s tucked under my arm. I also didn’t take either of my cameras which I’m gutted about as I saw so many great photo opportunities. I think now that I know my way around a little I’ll be confident enough to take some photos next time without worrying about pickpockets.

IMG_3659Here’s a little idea of what I took with me; my Navigo pass to get around the metro, a small mirror from Primark, headphones, my tablet for music and maps, a tiny purse (I purposely didn’t bring my usual purse with cards in in case I got mugged, lol), keys and my new (old) phone. Cheers Lucinda! I also got given a leaflet about exercise classes in Asnieres Sur Seine (my town) and I’m quite interested. I’m deciding between either Pilates or Zumba; any thoughts anyone??

IMG_3618So yeah that was my morning at the market. It runs every Saturday, Sunday and Monday and I totally recommend it to anyone I know living in Paris at the moment or if you’re just on holiday.

I wore my new Primark dress, €6, baaaargain, Doc Martens in Ivory (fave thing shoes atm) and Primark clutch.

(I’ll include photos from the actual market next time yayay)

Mary x

Child’s play

Au Pairing in Paris

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A sofa is a fort, a puddle is an ocean, a blanket is a cloud and your legs are a climbing frame. One of the biggest parts of my job is to play; learn to let go and have fun with the kids. Bring on another week of using my imagination and being a kid again.

Mary x

Hello Otjikondo, Goodbye Otjikondo

Africa

This time last week I’d just booked a flight to Frankfurt but had almost 4 days to wait around in Windhoek for it; 4 days in Windhoek is 4 days too many, so with some broken communication, Gilly agreed for me to come and visit Otjikondo with Ottilie and Chelcie for the weekend. Our wait in Windhoek included ice cream in the park, shopping for fabric for Sara, making use of the internet at the Carboard Box, eating at Nando’s and Joe’s Beerhouse before meeting Paul on Thursday morning.Image

Chelcie and I ended up in the back of the open bakkie with a very strong natural air conditioning, lots of luggage and 2 mattresses to sit on. The mattresses would have been perfect if only they weren’t covered with plastic sheets that flapped around in the wind and made so much noise that it was almost impossible to hear each other.Image

 

Arriving at Otjikondo nearly 5 hours later was no less than magical; Paul beeped his horn and kids came running. Chelcie and Ottilie were greeted by hugs and squels, I got a few of the same then some ‘Miss Mary you’re back again?!‘s… It was great to see everyone again but I had to explain quickly that I could only stay for the weekend so the chance for them all to get a dance lesson was pretty slim, sorry kids!

Seeing current GAPs Rebecca and Eleanor again was awesome and they haven’t changed a bit since I last saw them. We got straight to work on Friday, I opened the shop and helped Destiny learn her rap for one of the songs in Wind in the Willows, their summer play. That evening most of the children watched Frozen in the evening but I went to look after the little boys as their hostel sister was away. We watched Antz and Matilda, I fell asleep on the freezing cold floor and woke up to some of them having a giggle at me. I got a few cuddles before I walked home.

Saturday’s normal routine was replaced with sport; the under 11s, 12s and 13s played netball and football against Kamanjab on maybe the windiest day I’ve ever experienced in Namibia. We won all games except 1 which was amazing! I looked after Brenda’s baby Crushanda and hung out with my girls Tjazupo (my sponsor child) and Eengwi (her best friend) whilst some of the older girls somehow convinced me to let them use my camera so went around documenting the matches and supporters.

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That afternoon was spent running the shop whilst the others did bank (gave the kids their pocket money). I don’t know how it took so long but Priska and I were in the shop until it was dark; we couldn’t find our way out and had to stumble over to Gilly’s house without dropping the bags full of coins and notes we had. I was exhausted and felt so ill but decided not to turn down Paul and Sara’s offer of dinner!

Sunday’s church service was enough church to last me a lifetime; it went on for 2 and a half hours and I can’t bring myself to write any more about it. Tjazupo, Fillemon, Tenesses and Dankie (our sponsor children. + Eengwi came as her and Tjazupo are pretty inseperable) were invited into the GAP garden afterwards and were spoiled by us with presents and sweets. Tjazupo and Eengwi loved their plastic princess accessories and I showed Fillemon how to play snakes and ladders and do races with his toy cars.

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The rest of the day was spent teaching the drama kids a dance, having lunch (Mina’s chicken and chips!!!!) at Gilly’s, messing around with the over excited Grade 7’s, eating fudge in the big girls hostel, reading Mr Strong to the girls in Weavers Nest hostel, hearing the girls own stories and acting them out, dinner with the ex and current GAPs and watching Pitch Perfect in my room with the girls.

Although my visit to Otjikondo was so short it felt really special and it’s always great to see the Stommels, staff, GAPs and children. I said my goodbyes and made sure they weren’t too emotional as I wasn’t in the mood to cry and be upset! I’ll miss everyone huge amounts and know I won’t be able to visit again soon which is a horrible feeling! On the plus side, I’m so thankful that I was able to go back and visit twice less than a year after I finished my 12 months there.

Goodbye Otjikondo, thank you GAPs and Stommels for putting up with me once again! 🙂 Love you, miss you, mean it 😉

Mary x

‘I just want to say goodbye’ – 3rd – 4th March 2014

Africa
Hello,
On Monday the GAPs were still technically on their out weekend so Annika and I took the morning PT lessons but decided to do something a bit different to usual. As Shrove Tuesday is celebrated in Germany by Carnival (and Reiner Stommel is German so there’s always some kind of celebration in Otjikondo) we thought it would be fun to teach ‘Das Rote Pferd’ and a dance to go with it instead of PT. The older Grades enjoyed it and picked up the words really quickly but the Grades 1s and 2s preferred to just make up their own words and dances!
 
At lunch I went to The Stommels to drop something off and ended up staying for chocolate cake and ice cream whilst we listened to Luisa play the piano (result!). That afternoon I finally got all of the sponsor letters finished which was a huge relief, when I went back to see Gilly I realised that the best way for me to get to Windhoek on time for my coach home was to leave Otjikondo on Tuesday with Reiner instead of Wednesday as I’d hoped so I only had 1 more day at Otjikondo. 
 
I went to visit the girls in the hostel to almost say my goodbyes; Kelly and Tracy were sitting on floor using a bin as a drum, Susan and Pehovelo were playing cards whilst some of the older ones played with my hair (my favourite activity). I went to look for my sponsor child, Tjazupo but the girls told me she was ill with mumps in the Sick Bay, when I found her half of her face was swollen and she looked really miserable. Sister Lisetha gave her some cream and a scarf to wear around her face, Tjazupo burst into tears so I told her to go and lie down whilst I read her stories for nearly an hour. It’s obviously horrible to see any child sick and upset but it’s 100 times worse when it’s a child your so close with. Even though I should of celebrated my last evening I felt so downhearted that I had to leave so I stayed in my room to pack and write a few goodbye notes. 
 
Tuesday’s assembly was the last of my visit so Mrs Vermaak said goodbye on behalf of the staff and children at Otjikondo and they all sang ‘We say goodbye to Mary’ which is a personal favourite of mine. Some of the girls came and gave me goodbye letters which always seem to start with ‘I just want to say….’ (the boys are too cool for letter writing) and a few gave me letters to post to my mum, sister and Fran. I tried to get a million and one things done before leaving at 9am but I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew. It was Shrove Tuesday and we were celebrating German Carnival so Rebecca and Eleanor painted the Grade 2’s faces with everything from cat whiskers, beards and flags. Before I’d even got the chance to eat my pancake back home (thank you GAPs!) Reiner was waiting outside the flat beeping his horn so I jumped in the car and waved goodbye to my second home. 
 
Although I only spent a week and a half back at Otjikondo I fully settled back into the Namibian way of life and had an immense time. I made friends for life in Rebecca, Eleanor and Annika, discovered more about the children and spent time with teachers that I didn’t know too well before. I could go on for pages about happy I am when at Otjikondo but I think I proved that by visiting less than 6 months after I left! Thank you to everyone who welcomed me back, I will returning very shortly 🙂
Lots of love,
Mary 
x

‘Shine bright like your mother’ – 2nd March 2014

Africa
Hello!
 
I always enjoy going to church at Otjikondo but Sunday’s service seemed a bit strange; firstly it was Father Erasmus taking the service instead of Gilly and about a third of the children had gone home with their parents so it felt a bit empty. No one really knew what was going on with the songs/marimbas/piano and Father Erasmus even quoted a Rihanna song… He said ‘Who is the most beautiful mother? Our own mothers are the most beautiful. Beautiful like diamonds in the sky’. I tried my best not to burst out laughing. Throughout the day I heard a few children say ‘shine bright like your mother’. 
 
I went straight to the birthday cupboard afterwards to give 3 pieces of clothing to every child whose birthday was in the past week. They all were well behaved, they put the clothes back neatly and found things they liked really quickly which is not usually the case! I even got to help my sponsor child choose her clothes because she’s just turned 8, she then came to the GAP flat garden with her best friend Eengwi to open some small birthday presents that I’d brought and wrapped way back in August (I’d completely forgotten what I’d got). I gave them both presents because I didn’t want Eengwi to feel left out and they were only small things like a fairy wand, Mr Men book, keyring and a few sweets. Little did I know that Tjazupo would have a mini strop because she got 1 less sweet (I must count more thoroughly next time!), I sent them back to their hostels and Tjazupo quickly got over it because Eengwi was kind enough to share her sweets. 
 
That afternoon the GAPs (Rebecca, Eleanor, Iris and Luisa) went on a farm drive with Gilly, Katy and Reiner whilst Annika and I chilled in the garden and went for a quick swim in Gilly’s pool. I was asleep in our garden when Karina, Japs and Destiny threw a massive branch at me through the gate screaming ‘have some spinach Miss Mary! We brought you some spinach, eat it Mary!’. I kindly declined their lovely offer and guessed they wanted some entertainment. I have a great video of them using their best compliments on me as we walked around school, ‘Mary you are the only rose in the garden! Mary you are the sharpest thorn in the bush. Oh Miss Mary you are the only snake that bites, the only key to open my heart, the only Mopani worm that I’ll eat!’. When I sat down to quickly check my Facebook they saw some photos of me from when I was 14, about the same age they are, and were shocked at how different I looked. I personally just think I look a bit lankier and have nicer hair but they were screaming and shouting about how it looks like a different person. ‘Miss Mary, why aren’t you pretty anymore?!’ – ahh you have to appreciate their honesty! After googling things like ‘world’s deadliest snake’ and ‘world’s fattest man’ for a while (they love to google!) we walked over to the big girls hostel where Audrey offered to braid my hair, I chose orange, pink and grey. Meanwhile Karina dragged a big clear container out from her locker, it was filled with murky green water and about 50 tadpoles, Karina never fails to surprise me! She then showed me her photo album where she’s put photos that I’d given her last year when I’d left. As well as a photograph of her in her traditional tribal outfit and she’d captioned it ‘I’m proud of my culture’.
 
Rebecca made a huge lasagna for dinner and I contributed with fudge that didn’t quite set. I don’t like lasagna because food in layers seems very strange to me so I used the mince meat to have spaghetti bolognese. Having 6 GAPs in the flat was hectic but so nice to hear everyone’s stories.
 
Lots of love,
Mary
xxx

Snakes and lions – 1st March 2014

Africa

Hello!

We had a music concert on Saturday morning to show the parents what the children have been working on this term with Mr Faustinus. Fran’s music concert sign stood outside of the church as the children and parents piled inside. There were so many parents there that every inch of space inside the church was used, children were sitting down the aisle, at the sides, parents were out of the door and any small children had to sit on the laps of others. I had Armando on my lap and although he’s a really well behaved little boy he found it hilarious to tickle my neck during the performances, I managed to contain my giggles and luckily he fell asleep after a while. The music was really good and even if I didn’t know the kids I’d be really impressed. Faustinus used tambourine’s and drums to make the recorder pieces more lively and even had whole percussion groups. Mrs Vermaak made a quick speech at the end and thanked Faustinus, Rebecca and Sara for their involvement before we all exited ready for the parent’s meeting.

I met Iris and Luisa, the two Project Trust GAPs at St Michaels, the school ‘down the road’ from us. We all chatted for a while, accompanied by Armando who we seemed to be babysitting for the day. The girls were all meant to go somewhere for the out weekend but couldn’t decide on anywhere worthwhile so decided to stay in Otjikondo but take time off from their usual activities.

Because the parent’s were in the meeting I went to occupy some children with tennis bats and balls, skipping ropes and hula hoops and when the parents came out Tabs and I sold Vet cakes for $3 each. I was so tired already so went to the little girls hostel to return Armando to his mum and I nearly fell asleep on a little girl’s bed. I sunbathed at lunch then went with Annika to do Bank (handing out pocket money), I don’t know why it took so long but I was sat there with the books and money for more than an hour and a half! I helped in the shop with the other GAPs afterwards before the boys greeted us with a lovely present swimming around in a bucket. A live python. We all had a look until it started sliding to the top of the bucket and looked like it was going to come out. Tabs ordered the boys to take it out of the shop and to release it outside, we tipped the bucket over and it disappeared into the grass.

Karina, Destiny and Agnola had become my sidekicks for the day, following me everywhere and when I didn’t see them for an hour or so they’d come knocking on the GAP flat door asking to do something. I was in a good mood so put my laptop on a bench and we sat outside of the GAP flat watching The Lion King, so African! There’s been news in the past few days that theres a lion wandering near St Michaels and that it’s been killing cows so we made endless scenarios of what we’d do if the lion just jumped out of the grass while we were watching the film. Soon we were joined by about 6 more children and used my duvet to keep warm as it got dark and cold outside.

Rebecca and Eleanor are so much more adventurous with their food than Fran and I ever were so we had a Mexican themed dinner which was delicious! 6 GAPs in the flat meant lots of story swapping and giving the girls advice on where to go in their holidays. Another busy day at Otjikondo meant I slept like a baby, even if I did wake up a few times worried there was a lion waiting outside…
Lots of love,
Mary
xxx

Filling the gaps – February 23rd-24th

Africa

Hello!

The past 2 days have been so busy that I feel like I’ve been here for weeks already (in a good way!) Sunday evening was spent watching the GAPs do their drama rehearsal. This year’s play is ‘Wind in the Willows’ and from what I’ve seen/ heard so far it will be a really good performance. The kids were so enthusiastic when they sang the songs that it reminded me of how unenthusiastic they sometimes were with us when we we rehearsing for ‘The Giant Slayer’!

Monday morning felt like the first day of a new job for me, it’s so different seeing everyone in their school uniform and attending lessons rather than on the weekends when life is a lot more relaxed. Monday morning also was the first time I saw the teachers again! Hugs and questions about England filled my morning. I spent 2 hours assisting Miss Bitz in the grade 2 classroom. We played games and used beads to teach the number ’13’. I then read ‘The Sly Fox and the Red Hen’ to the children before asking them questions on the book to help their understanding. By before 10 o’clock I was already on to the next set of jobs. Gilly had trusted me with the school car (God knows why!?) to collect the Christmas presents for children who are now at High School for me to sort out. Driving in Otjikondo is bizarre as you can only really go about 20km per hour… Later on I sorted out templates for the kids to send thank you letters to their sponsors for their Christmas presents and typed up examples for them to copy. The rest of my morning was spent in the birthday cupboard, basically a big room full of cupboards of clothes to which we give the children 3 items from when it’s their birthday. Anyway, the room was a mess because of a big pile of new clothes so I sorted them out and put them away in the relevant cupboards.

In the afternoon I played football with the grade 1 boys who are all very sweet. There’s even a boy called Frans who is ADORABLE and I know Fran (my friend, other volunteer Fran) would love. After offering 2 girls a quick dance in the hall I was greeted by almost 20 girls begging for a dance lesson. I also played table tennis with the older boys so it ended up being quite a hot and sweaty afternoon.

That evening we were invited to the Stommel’s for a music concert. We had a delicious buffet (and laughed at how small the mustard spoon was…) and then listened to Rebecca and Faustinas on the violins and Ian on the piano. They’re all so talented so we felt pretty lucky to be listening to them play. When you think about it there aren’t many people who can say they’ve listened to live professional classic music on a Monday evening on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Africa. Life is bizarre here but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lots of love,

Mary xx